After registration drive, will Western vote?
Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review
Republican or Democrat? To approve or not to approve an initiative? Wait, what exactly is a referendum again?
These are the kind of questions and decisions that Western students will make in the upcoming November elections. On the ballot are a number of important initiatives that could have major impacts on student life at Western staff and volunteers at the AS Representation and Engagement Programs office have been hard at work getting as many students to register to vote in Whatcom County as possible. The question is, when it comes time to vote, will students be knowledgeable enough to make informed, competent decisions?
Photo illustration by Evan Marczynski/The AS Review
Western sophomore Savanah Jordan is registered to vote in Whatcom County as well as Pierce County.
“I vote because if I don’t, I can’t really complain about who’s voted into office,” said Jordan. “I just vote because I feel like it’s my civic duty.”
Other students, like senior Tyler Hampton, vote simply because they can.
“I vote mainly because I’m of age, I can and I want to,” he said. “My family is from Arizona, so immigration laws and border patrol issues are important to me.”
Still others, like junior Emily Snead, aren’t registered to vote in Whatcom County, but plan to send in absentee ballots to vote in their home counties. Snead is from Pierce County, and said she votes for initiatives that promote positive environmental change.
Lucas Bourne, the AS student senate chair, said that he encourages all students at Western to vote, especially because many issues on the ballot will have a direct impact on their lives this year. He said the best way to motivate students to vote is to show them why it matters, and that voicing their opinions is important.
Remy Levin, AS elections coordinator, said that the REP office and Western Votes, an organization made up of student volunteers, have been raising awareness about this year’s issues since the beginning of fall quarter. Since then, they have registered just under 1,400 students . Levin said the REP set up tables outside of Wilson Library to catch students after they received their student IDs. Volunteers also went door to door around the dorms and set up booths at the Red Square Info Fair to encourage freshman and transfer students to register.
“It’s a big task,” Levin said. “I can’t force anyone to register or to vote, all I can do is inform them.”
Getting people to register to vote may be difficult, but getting people to make informed decisions when they do register is perhaps even harder.
“As far as voting goes, it does take effort,” Levin said. “We need to explain to people that the benefits of voting are high, and that they should take the time to research the issues.”
To help students understand complicated initiatives, the REP office put on an event called “Booze, Taxes and Democracy” on Oct. 7. The event featured a panel of Western economics and political science professors, the deputy director of the League of Education Voters and the government affairs director for fiscal and tax policy for the Association of Washington Business. The panel discussed the pros and cons of various initiatives and then responded to audience questions.
Morgan Holmgren, REP associate director, said that many students who attended were already informed about the issues, and came to hear more about them in depth.
Holmgren said in order to inform those who are only casually interested in politics the REP distributed voter pledge cards, which are postcards that students address to themselves. They will then receive the postcards one week before ballots are due as a reminder to fill out them out and turn them in. Holmgren said volunteers have also been collecting student’s e-mail addresses and sending out information on candidates and initiatives from the secretary of state’s website.
All of these efforts are to fight what Holmgren calls “voter apathy.” He said there is a common misconception that students are uninterested in politics, and that they don’t realize how political issues affect their daily lives.
“People don’t vote because they don’t know enough about the elections,” he said. “They don’t know enough about the issues to make an informed decision, so they don’t make any decision at all.”
Levin said that the REP office will continue to spread awareness about the November ballot initiatives, and encourage people to exercise their ability to take control of their government.
“It’s hard work, but we’re doing our best,” Levin said. “No one has an excuse to not register to vote."
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